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​Questions and Answer on Special Education and Homelessness

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services and the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education issue this Question and Answer (Q & A) document to provide State and local educational officials, early intervention services providers, and homeless assistance coordinators with information to assist with implementation of the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its implementing regulations and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (McKinney-Vento Act). This Q & A document represents the Department’s current thinking on these topics. It does not create or confer any rights for or on any person. This Q & A document does not impose any requirements beyond those required under applicable law and regulations.

If you are interested in commenting on this Q & A document, please email us your comment at OSERSguidancecomments@ed.gov (put the word Homelessness in the subject line of your e-mail) or write to us at the following address:

U.S. Department of Education,
550 12th Street, S.W., Room 5122
Potomac Center Plaza
Washington, DC 20202-2641

Specifically, this Q & A document provides information to special educators, early intervention providers, and homeless assistance coordinators about some of the requirements of the IDEA and the McKinney-Vento Act that apply in serving homeless children with disabilities. The IDEA assists States in meeting the early intervention needs of infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families and the special education and related services needs of children with disabilities. The IDEA rights and protections applicable to children with disabilities and their parents under Part B of IDEA (Grants to States program) and the rights and protections applicable to infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families under Part C of IDEA (Infants and Toddlers With Disabilities program) apply to homeless children with disabilities. Part B of IDEA (Part B) provides assistance to States, and through them to local school districts, to assist in providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE1) to children with disabilities between the ages of 3 and 21, inclusive. FAPE under Part B of IDEA is a statutory term that has a specific meaning, and includes, among other elements, the provision of special education and related services, at no cost to parents, under public supervision and direction, in an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school program in the State involved, in conformity with an individualized education program (IEP). States and their public agencies also have an affirmative obligation to identify, locate, and evaluate all children residing in the State who are suspected of having disabilities and who are in need of special education and related services, regardless of the severity of their disability. This obligation, known as “child find”, is specifically applicable to homeless children. Relevant requirements regarding FAPE and child find under Part B as they particularly apply to homeless children with disabilities are described in more detail throughout this Q & A document.

Part C of IDEA (Part C) authorizes assistance to States in developing and implementing a coordinated, Statewide early intervention system to meet the early intervention needs of infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. Some relevant requirements of Part C relating to child find and the provision of early intervention services as they apply in particular to homeless infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families also are described further in this Q & A document.

In addition, two Federal civil rights laws, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Title II), protect students with disabilities. Section 504 ensures that educational institutions receiving Federal financial assistance from the Department of Education (Department) do not discriminate on the basis of disability against “qualified” students with disabilities. Generally, any student with a disability who is of mandatory school age is “qualified,” regardless of whether or not the student is homeless. Section 504 requires public elementary and secondary school systems to provide a free appropriate public education to each qualified student with a disability, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability. Title II also prohibits disability discrimination by public entities, including public schools, and similarly applies to students with disabilities who are homeless as well as those who are not homeless. For more information on the requirements of Section 504 and Title II, please consult the Section 504 Final Regulations at 34 CFR Part 104, at http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_07/34cfr104_07.html and the Title II regulations at http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_07/28cfr35_07.html.

The McKinney-Vento Act provides assistance to States to help them ensure educational rights and protections for children and youth experiencing homelessness. This program helps State educational agencies (SEAs) ensure that homeless children, including preschoolers and youths, have equal access to a free, appropriate public education, including a public preschool education, as provided to other children and youth. Consistent with the McKinney-Vento Act, children experiencing homelessness are to be provided services comparable to those received by other students in the school they attend, including transportation services, and education programs for which such students are otherwise eligible, such as services provided under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 or similar State or local programs and programs for students with disabilities. These obligations are described in more detail in this document. For more information on the requirements of the McKinney-Vento Act, please see the Non-regulatory guidance on the Education for Homeless Youth Program (2004), found at:
http://www.ed.gov/programs/homeless/legislation.html

The questions and answers included in this document are based on questions submitted to the Department by the National Homeless Assistance Law Center. For clarity, some additional questions and answers have been added to address issues that may arise in connection with providing special education and related services to homeless children with disabilities and affording the rights and protections under Part B to those children and their parents. The information contained in this document is not intended to reflect all requirements of Parts B and C of IDEA, Section 504 and Title II, and the McKinney-Vento Act that are applicable to homeless children with disabilities and their families. In some cases, the questions, and corresponding answers, presented in this Q & A document required interpretation of IDEA, Section 504 and Title II, and their implementing regulations, and the answers are not simply a restatement of the statutory or regulatory requirements. The responses presented in this document generally are informal guidance representing the interpretation of the Department of the applicable statutory or regulatory requirements in the context of the specific facts presented and are not legally binding. This document is not intended to be a replacement for careful study of IDEA and its implementing regulations. The statute, regulations, and other important documents, including Qs and As released in January 2007, related to IDEA and the regulations are found at http://idea.ed.gov. This website includes the final Part B regulations, which became effective on October 13, 2006 and the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Part C, published at 72 FR 26456 (May 9, 2007). A copy of the current regulations for Part C of IDEA can be found at: http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_07/34cfr303_07.html

1 The term free appropriate public education is used in IDEA, the McKinney-Vento Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. This term, however, has a different meaning under each statute. Therefore, the acronym FAPE, as used in this document, only refers to FAPE under IDEA.

​A. General Requirements Relating to the Education of Homeless Children with Disabilities
Authority: McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 11431 et seq. and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Part B, 20 U.S.C. 1401, 1411-1419 and 34 CFR Part 300, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. 794 and 34 CFR Part 104 and Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12131 et seq. and 28 CFR Part 35.


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​Question A-1:  How does the McKinney-Vento Act help to remove educational barriers for homeless children?

​Question A-2:  What rights are afforded to homeless children with disabilities under Part B?

​B. Child Find and Homeless Students
Authority: The requirements for child find under Part B are found in the Part B regulations at 34 CFR §300.111. The requirements for location of children and notification under Section 504 are found in the Section 504 regulations at 34 CFR §104.32.


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Q​uestion B-1:  What are Part B’s child find requirements? How do these requirements apply to children and youth who are homeless?

​Question B-2:  What rights do parents of homeless children have during child find?

​Question B-3:  Which children are covered by Part B of IDEA?

​Question B-4:  Does Section 504’s requirement that recipients of Federal financial assistance operating public elementary or secondary education programs identify and locate qualified individuals with disabilities apply to children and youth who are homeless?

​Question B-5:  Which individuals are considered disabled under Section 504 and Title II?

​C. Evaluations
Authority: The Part B requirements for consent and evaluations are found at 34 CFR §§300.300 through 300.311. The IEP requirements for children who transfer from one public agency to another public agency within the same school year are found at 34 CFR §300.323(e), (f) and (g). The Section 504 evaluation and placement requirements are found at 34 CFR §104.35.


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​Question C-1: Who may initiate a request for an evaluation under Part B?

​Question C-2:  How do the parental consent requirements for initial evaluations and reevaluations under Part B apply to homeless children with disabilities?

​Question C-3: How do the Part B requirements for conducting initial evaluations apply to homeless children?

​Question C-4: If a school district knows that a child is homeless and, therefore, may leave a school prior to the completion of special education evaluations, must the school district begin the process of initial evaluations?

​Question C-5: How does the exception to the timeline for completion of evaluations apply to children who are homeless?

​Question C-6:  How does the evaluation process proceed when a child who is homeless transfers to a new school district before the previous school district completes the evaluation and eligibility process?

​Question C-7:  What are the evaluation and placement requirements under Section 504 for homeless children?

​D. Eligibility and IEPs
Authority: The requirements for the eligibility determination are found at 34 CFR §300.306. The requirements for parent consent for the initial provision of special education and related services are found at 34 CFR §300.300(b). The requirements for development and implementation of IEPs are found at 34 CFR §§300.320 through 300.324.


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​Question D-1: If a public agency determines that a homeless child has a disability following the homeless child’s initial evaluation, what steps must be taken before the child can receive special education and related services for the first time?

​Question D-2:  Must parents of children with disabilities give their informed consent before their child’s IEP is developed and implemented for the first time? What happens if the parent of a homeless child with a disability fails to respond to the request for consent?

​Question D-3:  What are the timelines in Part B for conducting IEP Team meetings?

​Question D-4:  What steps must public agencies take to ensure that the parents of a homeless child attend their child’s IEP Team meeting? What steps must the public agency take if the public agency has been unable to confirm a meeting with the parent?

​Question D-5:  Under what circumstances may an IEP Team meeting be conducted without a parent in attendance?

​Question D-6: What steps must the responsible school district take to ensure that homeless children with disabilities enrolled in new schools in another school district have the opportunity to immediately attend classes and participate in school activities?

​Question D-7:  What options are available when an out-of-state transfer student who is homeless cannot produce an IEP, and the parent is the source for identifying “comparable” services?

​Question D-8:  How can parents of homeless children with disabilities exercise their due process rights or file State complaints when their child has no fixed residence?

E. Schools of Origin
Authority: The requirements for schools of origin are found in the McKinney-Vento Act at 42 U.S.C. 11432(g)(3). The requirements for placements are found in the Part B regulations at 34 CFR §300.116.


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​Question E-1:  Can a homeless child’s disability be a factor in determining whether continuing in a school of origin is in their best interest?

​Question E-2: If a homeless child moves to a new school district in the same State during the same school year and elects to attend the school of origin, which school district is responsible for providing special education and related services?

​Question E-3: How does the ‘school of origin’ provision apply to homeless children with disabilities who move across State lines?

F. Unaccompanied Homeless Youth and Surrogate Parents
Authority: The requirements for surrogate parents are found at 34 CFR §300.519.


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​Question F-1:  When are homeless children considered “unaccompanied youth” and what protections do these children have under Part B?

Question F-2: What rights are afforded to an unaccompanied homeless youth with a disability who has reached the age of majority under State law?

​G. Early Intervention Services
Authority: Part C of IDEA is found at 20 U.S.C. §§1431 through 1444 and 34 CFR Part 303. The requirements for providing appropriate early intervention services for homeless infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families are found at 20 U.S.C. §§1434(1) and 1435(a)(2).


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​Question G-1: Must early intervention services be made available to homeless infants and toddlers?

​Question G-2: How do the Part C child find requirements apply to homeless infants and toddlers?

​Question G-3: What are some practices that may be helpful in identifying homeless infants and toddlers who would benefit from early intervention services?

​H. Coordination Between McKinney-Vento and Special Education Programs
Authority: The requirements for State Advisory Panels are found in the Part B regulations at 34 CFR §§300.167 through 300.169. The requirements for the State Interagency Coordinating Council under Part C are found at 20 U.S.C. §1441(b)(1)(K). The requirements for State Coordinators under the McKinney-Vento Act are found at 42 U.S.C. §11432(f).



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​Question H-1: Does Part B include any requirements for special education personnel to coordinate with homeless education personnel?